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Since the Domain cripplemronion.info is as of now up for grabs (and no rules to be found anymore), I got the plain text version of the full rules from https://web.archive.org/web/20081209035939/http://cripplemronion.info/plain_text.txt and post it here.

Cripple Mr Onion

Rules and Frequently Asked Questions

These rules were reconstructed by Andrew Millard according to the game
depicted in "Witches Abroad", a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett. The
modifiers were developed in conjunction with Terry Tao.

This version of the rules of Cripple Mr Onion is given in six parts:

  1. Introduction,
  2. The Hands,
  3. The Non-Gambling Game,
  4. The Gambling Game,
  5. The Modifiers,
  6. Final Comments.

Some frequently asked questions follow.

This text-only version was transcribed on 4th July 1998.

1. Introduction

Cripple Mr Onion requires two standard decks of playing cards, preferably
one having the English or French suits clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds,
and the second having the Spanish or Italian suits staves, swords, cups and
coins - for the purpose of forming flushes, these are taken to be paired in
their respective order given above:

     clubs     are paired with   staves,
     spades    are paired with   swords,
     hearts    are paired with     cups,
     diamonds  are paired with    coins.

If a Spanish or Italian suit cannot be obtained, two English or French
decks can be used adequately for most purposes; see the modifiers for
further comments on this.

The game also requires at least two players, but not more than seven - this
isn't to do with the number eight for a specific reason, but a result of
the fact that there aren't enough cards for more than seven players - with
a ready supply of small coinage or tokens when gambling takes place, and
the players arranged as evenly as possible around the table on which the
game is played. A container able to hold cards should be placed centrally
on the table - this is to be the discard pot - along with another container
for coins or tokens if gambling is to take place: this is the Pot.

2. The Hands

Cripple Mr Onion revolves around forming groups of cards which either sum
exactly to twenty-one (an onion) or come close to this total without
exceeding it; in the usual fashion, a picture card (P) is worth ten, an ace
(A) is worth one or eleven, and other cards are worth their face value: a
ten (T) is worth ten, a nine is worth nine, and so on. Since groups of cards
which sum exactly to twenty-one can be formed in various ways, they are
ranked in a particular order according to their composition, along with a
few other groups which do not give twenty-one in total but which are of some
interest; these special hands, described below, are worth more than any
other valid combinations of cards and usually dominate the play.

There are thirteen categories of winning hands and in increasing order of
worth are:

  1. Bagel: this is a combination of two cards which totals exactly twenty;
     it is, therefore, one of TT, TP, PP or 9A.
  2. two-card onion: this is a combination of two cards which totals exactly
     twenty-one; it is, therefore, either TA or PA.
  3. Broken Flush: this is a group of at least three cards, summing to at
     least sixteen (but not more than twenty-one) with all of the cards
     except for one in the same suit-pair.
  4. three-card onion: this is a group of three cards which totals
     twenty-one exactly; examples are ATT, 56T, and 579.
  5. Flush: this is a group of at least three cards, summing to at least
     sixteen (but not more than twenty-one) with all of the cards in the
     same suit-pair.
  6. four-card onion: ... four cards which total twenty-one; for example,
     A55T, 2469, and 3378.
  7. Broken Royal: this is a special case of a three-card onion where the
     three cards are specifically 678 (of any suit-pairs).
  8. five-card onion: ... five cards ... e.g. A235T, 23466, and 33348.
  9. Royal: this is another special three-card onion being 777.
 10. six-card onion: ... six cards ... e.g. A2233T and A23456.
 11. (Wild Royal: this is a combination that may only be played when eights
     are wild - see the modifiers for details - since it consists of three
     wild eights.)
 12. seven-card onion: ... seven cards ... e.g. A223445.
 13. Onion: an Onion (capitalised letter 'o') is a two card combination of a
     picture card and an ace; however, PA on its own is just a two- card
     onion (place two above), since to occupy this exalted position, the
     group must consist of two Onions, PAPA or Double Onion, or three
     Onions, PAPAPA or 3[PA] or Triple Onion, or four Onions, 4[PA] or
     Lesser Onion, or even five Onions, 5[PA] or Great Onion. The Onions
     themselves are arranged according to their worth, with Double Onion the
     lowest and Great Onion the best.

Notice that the maximum number of cards making up an onion is seven (there
is no eight-card onion) and that for PA to be of any real value, the player
must hold at least two picture cards and two aces. Also, if a player should
be unlucky enough to receive multiple bagels, the qualifiers "double",
"triple", "lesser" and "great" (with small initials) are used.

Since each player is ultimately in possession of ten cards, a number of
groups, most of them usually winning hands, can be formed; the objective of
any individual player is therefore to form the ten cards into the best
possible set of groups, with each of the ten cards taking part in only one
of the groups. For example, representing clubs and staves by "c", spades and
swords by "s", hearts and cups by "h" and diamonds and coins by "d", the

     3c 3s 4s Js Ah 7h Qh Ad 4d 6d

is best split into:

   * Double Onion - JsAhQhAd
   * five-card onion - 3c3s4s4d7h
   * a six - 6d

whilst the hand:

     9c 4s Qs Ks 4h Jh Ad 7d Td Kd

is best split into:

   * four-card onion - Ad4s7d9c
   * double bagel - QsKsJhTd
   * a fourteen - 4hKd.

From this list of winning hands, it follows that some cards are
intrinsically more valuable than others: tens, for example, are only useful
in bagels and small-card onions whereas twos and threes are necessary for
constructing many-card onions; aces and picture cards are obviously of great
value. However, a player's strategy in selecting cards for replacement (see
the game descriptions and certain of the modifiers) should also be
influenced by the number of players, and whether eights are wild or not,
since these factors influence the relative likelihood of each hand winning
the round.

3. The Non-Gambling Game

At the beginning of each round, one player is identified as the Dealer, with
the player to the Dealer's left as the Elder and the player to the Dealer's
right as the Younger - this sets the order of precedence in being dealt
cards and in winning in the event of a tie as Dealer, Elder, other players
in order and, lastly, Younger. In the event that the Dealership changes,
these identifiers move to be based around the new Dealer. The round opens
when the Dealer shuffles the pack of all 104 cards and the Younger cuts the

All the players are dealt five cards in this order: the Dealer receives two
cards and deals all the other players, in order from Elder to Younger, three
cards; the Dealer then receives three cards and deals the other players two
(this is done to speed up the dealing, which isn't exactly the most
interesting part of the game). Then, in turn, from Elder to Younger, each
player discards up to four cards into the discard pot and announces the
number of discards to the Dealer who replaces them from the top of the pack;
the Dealer then discards and replaces, also announcing the number thrown
away. It is important to note that up to this point all cards have been
dealt face down, each player is only aware of their own cards and, by way of
the draw, ought to have a better hand than was originally dealt.

The second set of five cards each is now dealt in the following way: the
Dealer receives five cards face down on the table, and then, in turn from
Elder to Younger, each other player is dealt five cards face up on the
table. Cards dealt face up on the table must remain that way, although the
owner of those cards may rearrange them there if desired.

Now the final part of the round, Showdown, takes place. Beginning from the
Elder, the highest card grouping is declared and displayed on the table; if
the player to the left of the Elder cannot equal, beat or play some modifier
that affects the Elder's cards, that player's cards are all placed face up
on the table, in their groupings if the player wishes, and that player is
out of the round; the comparison of the next leftward player's cards with
the Elder's then takes place. If the Elder's cards are equalled, then the
next card grouping must be considered. If the Elder's cards are beaten, then
the Elder has the opportunity to play a modifier or rearrange the card
grouping in an attempt to obtain a better arrangement; once the Elder's
cards are undoubtedly beaten, however, the Elder is out of the round and the
comparison of the currently leading player's cards with the next leftward
player's takes place. By this process of comparison, consideration of lower
groupings, rearrangement of card groups and playing of modifiers, and
knocking out of players, the holder of the best set of cards, between the
Elder and the Younger, is found. Finally, the Dealer's cards are compared
with the only player left in, and the process of finding the better cards is
repeated; the player who holds the better cards has then won the game. Note
that in the event of either a complete tie between two players' cards or an
impasse due to circular use of modifiers, the player of greater seniority
wins - often, this means that the Dealer wins. Once all the players but one
have been knocked out, leaving the winner holding the best cards, the round
is over, the cards and discards are collected up and the winner becomes the
Dealer for the next round.

4. The Gambling Game

There are two types of betting that are used in the gambling version of
Cripple Mr Onion and these will be described before the details of how they
fit into the game are given.

The first type is "matching the Dealer's stake". First, the Dealer chooses a
number of coins or tokens to be the stake, on the basis of the cards known
to the Dealer, and, naming the amount, places it in the Pot; if the Dealer
wishes, the amount may be zero. Then, when called upon by the Dealer to do
so, each player must either match the stake, placing an equal amount in the
Pot, or fold, placing all cards in the discard pot and losing any claim to
the Pot in that round; of course, if the stake is zero, all remaining
players can stay in for free.

The second type is "raising the Dealer". When called upon by the Dealer,
each player may choose to make an extra bet against the Dealer, according to
cards that are known to that player. If the player chooses to raise, the
chosen number of coins or tokens are placed on the player's cards and the
amount is named. Finally, when all the players who have not yet folded have
done this, the Dealer must place an amount equal to the total value of
raises into the Pot - and all the individual raises then go into the Pot as
well - or lose the Dealership: often this means that the Dealer must fold.

Each round begins in the same way as for the non-gambling game, except that
now, before the first deal takes place, every player places a previously
agreed amount, the Stake, into the Pot as the ante. Then after every player
has discarded and received replacements, the first round of betting takes

The Dealer selects a stake, as described above, and then, from the Elder to
the Younger, asks each player first to match that stake and then to raise
it; if the Dealer cannot match the total value of the raises, then the
Dealer folds. This matching and raising occurs twice. The Dealer then
selects a stake for the third time and again asks each player, in order, to
match it; this time, however, the players are not asked to raise.

The second set of five cards for each remaining player is then dealt as
follows: as before, the Dealer receives five cards face down, but now each
player has the option of buying from one to all of the five cards face down,
at the price of an amount equal to the Stake per card, instead of receiving
them all face up. Cards may be bought one at a time, if desired, and once
the player has finished buying cards, the Dealer deals the remainder from
the five to that player face up on the table in front of the player. As each
player receives the full complement of ten cards, an extra bet may be made,
in the same manner as raising the Dealer, and then, once every remaining
player has ten cards, the Dealer must consider all the extra bets.

If the Dealer matches the total extra bets made, the game continues with the
second round of betting described below; however, if the Dealer does not
wish to match the extra bets, then the Dealership changes without the Dealer
folding - this is the only time when this can take place. The Dealer gives
the Dealership to the Elder who, to become the new Dealer, must match the
total extra bets, the Elder's own extra bet going into the Pot if the
Dealership is accepted; of course, if the Elder does not accept, the
Dealership is passed left again until one of the other players accepts it,
or until it has gone full circle with no-one wanting it - in that case,
everyone folds, the Pot becomes the ante for the next round, the old Dealer
remains as Dealer, and the next round starts afresh.

Once the extra bets have been matched, be it by the original Dealer, the
Elder or one of the other players, the second round of betting takes place.
This consists of two stages of matching and raising as in the first round of
betting, but now not followed by a third stage of matching only.

Finally, Showdown takes place, exactly as in the non-gambling game, but now,
of course, the winner claims the contents of the Pot as the prize for

In the event that the Dealer folds, the Dealership is auctioned as follows:
from the Elder to the Younger, the players who are still in are asked by the
old Dealer if they wish to be the new Dealer - if the player wishes to be
the new Dealer, that player must advance an amount equal to the Stake. If
another player, when asked, also wishes to be Dealer, then that player must
match the existing bid and advance another amount equal to the Stake. This
process continues around and around the table, with each prospective Dealer
making sure that the most recent player's bid is at least an amount equal to
the Stake higher that the last bid, until all the players except for one
have declined to advance any more, having placed their own total bid in the
Pot as they declined, and the single player left becomes the new Dealer,
placing the winning bid in the pot. If nobody wishes to be the new Dealer,
all the players fold, the Pot becomes the ante for the next round, the old
Dealer stays as Dealer and another round beings anew.

5. The Modifiers

The modifiers have usually been created for one of two reasons, either to
make the game a little more interesting and a little more uncertain, or to
decrease the chances of winning with a specific hand. It is not necessary to
use any of them, apart from numbers zero, which gives the game its name, and
one, which makes many-card onions and then Onions more probable, and in a
game, say, between four hardened professionals, even the Null Eights Rules
would probably not be used. The employment of the modifiers, therefore, is
left to the discretion of the players, but some possibilities for using the
modifiers beyond number zero are as follows:

   * just modifier #1;
   * modifiers numbers 1 to 3;
   * bring in the modifiers as the game progresses, one in every or every
     other round;
   * let the Dealer, for each round, declare which modifiers are in force in
     that round;
   * play all the modifiers from the beginning.

A number of the modifiers use specific cards to represent mythological and
not-so mythological Discworld characters, and, if two decks of cards with
the same suits are used, confusion may arise as to which of the two, say,
queen of spades is to represent the Lady. A solution, if not particularly
satisfactory, to this is to mark one of the two cards with a symbol, in this
case, for example, the letter L, on the face side so that the marked card
becomes the relevant one for the modifier and the other becomes an ordinary

The modifiers are all, some to a greater extent than others, based on
Discworld life, mythology and beliefs and have been assumed to have evolved,
with the game, over many centuries; none of the modifiers are arbitrary in
their action or purpose, but a detailed knowledge of the Discworld is not
necessary to use them. Finally, the ordering of the modifiers in the list
below is, apart from the Crippling Rules in position zero, largely
accidental and is not a guide to their usefulness or effectiveness.

Modifier #0: Crippling Rules

  1. A nine-card running flush may be used to cripple a Great Onion and win
     the game.
  2. A ten-card running flush out-cripples a nine-card running flush in
     crippling a Great Onion and may also cripple a Lesser Onion.

(Once a Great Onion or Lesser Onion have been crippled, the usual process of
Showdown stops, and the player with the crippling hand wins immediately.)

Modifier #1: Null Eights Rules

  1. During a round in which eights are not wild (see ii), an eight may be
     used as if it had value zero in order to trump up an onion. In the
     event of a tie between two onions with equal numbers of cards, the
     onion with the fewer null eights wins.
  2. In the round following a round in which a null eight has been played,
     eights are wild, acting as any regular card. The wild Royal, three wild
     eights, may then be played. In the next round, eights return to their
     original role.

(To "trump up an onion" means to make a four-card onion into a five-card
onion by the addition of one null eight, or to make a three-card onion into
a seven-card onion with four. Note, again, that there are no onions beyond
seven-card and that wild eights cannot be used as either null eights or as
any of the special cards giving rise to later modifiers.)

Modifier #2: Wild Crippling Rule

In a round in which eights are wild, to successfully cripple the relevant
Onion, the running flush must have at most the same number of wild cards as
the Onion being crippled.

Modifier #3: Octavo Rule

When eights are wild, the card group consisting of eight eights can be
considered as a Lesser Onion, but beats other Lesser Onions and may not be
crippled like a Lesser Onion of any other composition, but may be crippled
like a Great Onion.

Modifier #4: The Lady's Rules

  1. If eights are not wild, the queen of spades may be declared, before or
     during Showdown, and replaced by the player's choice of one of the next
     two cards from the deck, the chosen card taking up the place of the
     queen; other card goes to the discard pot. This move may not rescinded.
  2. When eights are wild, the queen of spades devalues one, for every other
     player, that would otherwise be played as having value eleven, to value
     one only. This does not affect any aces in a Great Onion, but may affect
     cards, in any grouping, which, by being wild or by other, would otherwise
     be played with value eleven.

(To "declare" means to put the card on the table face up and point it out to
the other players; here, of course, the queen may no longer be used in
forming card groupings since a replacement card has been received, but
should be left near the player on the table rather than in the discard pot.)

Modifier #5: Fate's Rules

  1. If the queen of spades has been declared and replaced, the king of cups
     may also be declared and replaced in a like manner, in the process making
     all aces held by the player who used the queen of spades have value zero.
  2. If eights are wild, the king of cups may be declared so that eights
     immediately cease to be wild; a different player who has the queen of
     spades, whether visible, played or not, may then make his own eights wild
     again. The king of cups may not be revoked once declared, and a single
     player may not use the king of cups and then the queen of spades in this

("Zeroed" cards are of no use in the game, and cannot be used like null
eights to trump up an onion.)

Modifier #6: Great A'Tuin's Rule

Declaring the queen of coins allows the player to reduce the value of one of
the player's cards by eight points and to increase the value of a different
card by eight points. The two affected cards must still have value between
one and eleven inclusive.

(A two that is shifted up to value ten may be considered a picture card, a
three shifted up to eleven as an ace of value eleven.)

Modifier #7: The Elephants' Rule

Any four cards, each being either a nine or a ten, or an eight when eights
are wild, that are declared with the queen of coins in one player's hand,
allow that player to shift as many points as are needed to generate a
Double Onion. This Double Onion may be beaten by any other Double Onion. Any
nines or tens in the player's hand that are not involved in the shift may be
considered as ones, not aces, and twos respectively.

(Since the five cards involved here have only been declared, and not
exchanged as well, they are, of course, still playable as cards in groups.
Remember that a ten may not take the role of a picture card in an Onion - a
shifted nine, eight etc. is needed. With two nines, two tens and the queen
of coins, a possible shift is: add one each to the nines and tens - hence
the Double Onion - and take four from the queen of coins to be a six.)

Modifier #8: The Sender of Eight's Rules

  1. When eights are not wild, a visible jack of diamonds makes any aces
     belonging to a player who uses any eights become zeroed (see #5i).
  2. When eights are wild, a visible jack of diamonds zeroes all aces and
     disallows eights from taking on value one or eleven.

Modifier #9: Death's Rules

  1. When eights are not wild, a visible king of swords makes picture card in
     every player's hand that has two or more picture cards have no part in
     forming a Double Onion.
  2. When eights are wild, a visible king of swords makes one picture card in
     every player's hand that has two or more picture cards have no part in
     forming either a Double Onion or a Triple Onion.

(The "killed" picture card can still take part in groups other than the
specified Onions.)

Modifier #10: The Archchancellor's Rules

  1. Any player who plays the jack of staves may not also play an eight as
     having value eight.
  2. If the jack of staves is declared at any time during the game, the king of
     swords can also be declared if held by another player; if the king of
     swords is declared, then all the other players must now declare one
     previously undisclosed card each. If the king of swords is not immediately
     declared by another player, the jack of staves becomes wild for the rest
     of the round.

Modifier #11: The Fool's Rule

If, at any time before Showdown, the jack of clubs is, then, for the rest of
the round, bagels change with Onions in the order of winning card groupings.

(That is: the two-card onion and the single bagel change places; the Double,
Triple and Lesser Onions are exchanged with the double, triple and lesser
bagels respectively; the great bagel becomes only beaten by, but may also be
crippled like, the Great Onion which remains at the top of the list. This
makes bagels worth something, other than a tie-breaker. The jack of clubs,
of course, can still take part in bagels, and any other card grouping.)

6. Final Comments

Cripple Mr Onion was first mentioned in "Wyrd Sisters" and has, since then,
been seen in a number of places; the most notable of these, to date, is the
section in "Witches Abroad" on the riverboat, and it is from this section
that the game has been reconstructed. Loosely speaking, it is a cross
between pontoon (or blackjack) and poker, played with a deck of cards having
eight suits, although, as is to be expected, the nature of the Discworld has
given Cripple Mr Onion features found in no other game.

Frequently Asked Questions

   * What does it mean for eights to be wild?

     In most card games, when a card is wild, it means it can take on any
     value you choose, although sometimes there are restrictions. In the
     rules and modifiers as presented here, eights represent spells and the
     jack of staves represents the Archchancellor, so being wild represents
     magic at work.

   * There isn't the usual poker-style system where everyone who stays in
     pays the same amount, is there?

     That's correct. Everyone is basically betting one-on-one with the
     dealer, as is the case in pontoon and blackjack.

   * Does the dealer really have so much of an advantage that it's worth
     paying so much more than everybody else to play a hand?

     It depends on the style of play. If the dealer is good, then that
     person will keep the dealership and can make lots of money. If the
     dealer is no good, then the other players can extract lots of money
     before the dealership changes. Don't forget that being the dealer
     offers more chances to cheat as well, which is no doubt a very
     important part of the game on the Discworld ;)

   * In the Null Eights Rule, when does a wild eight revert to being only
     eight or null? Is it after a wild eight is used or after the round in
     which a wild eight can be played?

     By and large, eights have value eight, but can be chosen to be null in
     order to trump up an onion. However, if someone uses a null eight in
     one round, then in the next round, eights are wild. Whether anyone uses
     a wild eight in that second round or not, eights return to their usual
     state in the round after that.

   * Under the same modifier, why would you use a null eight to trump an
     onion when the less you use the better?

     Null eights are less valuable than regular cards in an onion of the
     same number of cards, but a five-card onion still beats a three-card
     onion, no matter how many null eights have gone into their composition.
     Hence, you can use null eights to make a relatively poor four-card
     onion into a much better six-card onion, and it doesn't matter that you
     used two null eights unless someone else also happens to have a
     six-card onion, in which case you have to see who has used fewer null

   * In Great A'Tuin's Rule, do the two cards affected have to total between
     one and eleven together or by themselves?

     The cards individually must have a value between one and eleven, just
     like all other regular cards. Their total is fixed, since the modifier
     is just letting you move eight points from one card to another, but the
     value of that total doesn't matter as far as the modifier is concerned.

   * Has anybody ever played this for real?

     Oh, yes. In 1992 and 1993, when Terry (Tao) and I were working out the
     kinks in the game and developing the modifiers, we played the game
     quite a number of times with other students. I think everyone who was
     involved enjoyed it, and it worked out pretty well. The size of the
     games varied from three people to seven, the most important lesson
     being that the style of play has to change according to the number of

   * Is "Terry Tao" a clever pseudonym for "Terry Pratchett"?

     No :) Terry Tao is a Hedrick Assistant Professor at the Department of
     Mathematics, UCLA, specialising in harmonic analysis and partial
     differential equations. Visit http://www.math.ucla.edu/~tao to find out

Questions? Comments? Suggestions?

You are welcome to email me at andrew@crimron.net.


My thanks go to Terry Tao, Leo Breebaart, Phil Penney and, of course, Terry
Pratchett for writing the Discworld books, without which none of this would
be possible.

Andrew C. Millard
4th July 1998